U. chefs, high school students partner with Salvation Army to deliver Thanksgiving meals

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 26 2013 5:30 p.m. MST

Executive Chef Peter Hodgson and student Julia Maciunas season a turkey in the food court kitchen in the University of Utah Union on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. The University of Utah Dining Services is helping to prepare about 45 turkeys to make nearly 800 Thanksgiving meals for Salt Lake City families by preparing the food and partnering with the Salvation Army and the Utah Restaurant Association, who will then deliver the meals as part of their annual food drive.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Bright and early Thursday morning, West High School sophomore Bailey Pratt will be busy preparing a Thanksgiving feast.

But the turkey, potatoes and stuffing won't be for Pratt and her family. Instead, she'll be among a group of high school students and University of Utah Dining Services employees volunteering to prepare nearly 800 Thanksgiving meals for families along the Wasatch Front.

"This makes a huge difference," Pratt said. "I know a couple of families who will be getting one of these meals, and they’ve never really had Thanksgiving."

The meal drive is a partnership of the University of Utah, Utah Restaurant Association, Salvation Army and ProStart, a high school education program for students interested in culinary careers.

More than 30 students from various high schools will work alongside University of Utah chefs from 6 to 10 a.m. Thursday morning to prepare the meals, which will then be delivered to needy families and Meals on Wheels recipients by Salvation Army volunteers.

Pratt, who hopes to one day run her own pastry shop, said it's not easy waking up early on a holiday. But she said she doesn't mind giving some of her time to help others.

"I would rather help out then go be with my family," Pratt said. "I'm always with my family, so it would be nice to do something different for a change."

Markus Wunderlich, a fellow ProStart student at West High School, said he hopes the meals help families come together and enjoy their holiday.

"I think it really does make a difference to serve people," he said.

To prepare the meals in time, University of Utah executive chef Peter Hodgson said volunteers will meet for about eight hours of preparation time Tuesday and Wednesday. Hodgson estimated they will ultimately cook between 40 and 50 Sweetheart boneless turkeys, taking efforts to maximize as many servings of meat as possible.

The meals will also include mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, green beans, cranberry sauce, pie and a cornbread stuffing based on a recipe by University of Utah Dining Services Director Reggie Conerly.

Preparing that much food simultaneously is a logistical challenge, Hodgson said, but his university oven practically "walks and talks and cleans itself."

"We are going to cook and cut and dice, whatever we need to do to get a nice traditional turkey meal," he said. "We don't want to see anyone going hungry."

Food materials were secured by the Salvation Army and the Utah Restaurant Association, which also sponsors local ProStart programs.

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said the organization has done Thanksgiving meal drives in the past, but this is the first year it has partnered with the Salvation Army, increasing the number of families it can reach.

Sine said the meal drive is a great experience for students, who get firsthand knowledge about the food service industry while also giving back to the community. She said ProStart programs are in most Utah's high schools, and she'd like to see the Thanksgiving meal drive eventually extend beyond the Wasatch Front.

"This is a great opportunity for students and the community to come together and service a need," Sine said. "Hopefully we can, in the future, expand that to meet the needs that are throughout the state."

Turkeys for the food drive were donated by AAA, with other food items being secured through a mix of corporate and community donations, said Michael Black, kitchen manager for the Salvation Army of Utah.

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